Cubs reliever Arodys Vizcaino aces first test after long rehab of elbow injury
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter February 15, 2014 9:42PM
Arodys Vizcaino was a hot prospect before Tommy John surgery. | Getty Images
Updated: March 17, 2014 11:58AM
MESA, Ariz. — He might be the secret weapon on the Cubs’ pitching staff. Of course, the only reason Arodys Vizcaino is a secret these days is because he hasn’t pitched in almost 2½ years.
But the right-hander who once wowed evaluators and ruled top-prospects lists with his fastball and electrifying stuff is back after a lengthy recovery from Tommy John surgery and subsequent setback last May.
On Saturday, he put the newly rehabbed elbow through its first official bullpen test of the spring and impressed team officials.
“The ball comes out of his hand pretty easy. He snapped off some really strong breaking pitches and stayed below the zone,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He looked as good as we would want him to look at this point.”
Vizcaino, who made a brief big-league debut with the Atlanta Braves in 2011, is considered a reliever in the Cubs’ near-term plans. Barring any significant setbacks, he could be ready to join the team’s improved bullpen for the start of the season — though Renteria refused to give him even a best-case timeline.
Vizcaino, on the other hand, was adamant: “I’ll be ready for the season, for the first game.”
Vizcaino, 23, has time to grow into the big-leaguer many projected before the injury, even without pitching in a regular-season game since a one-inning appearance Sept. 27, 2011, against the Philadelphia Phillies.
“It’s been too hard, man,” he said of the long road back to the mound after faring well in a 25-pitch bullpen session. “It’s frustrating. Last year was not good.”
Vizcaino, who was acquired from the Braves at the 2012 trade deadline in the Paul Maholm deal, was eying a midseason return last year when a calcium buildup prompted another arthroscopic surgery in May.
Before the original injury, he was a top-40 prospect in both Baseball America and MLB.com rankings. After the surgery, he was ranked 83rd by Baseball America entering last season.
“Obviously, he’s got some skill,” Renteria said. “The ball really comes out of his hand easily. It’s got late life. His breaking pitches have some bite to them.”
If he can finally stay healthy, how good can he be? How quickly? In what long-term role?
He had a career minor-league ERA of 2.91 with a 1.12 WHIP and 279 strikeouts in 2682/3 innings.
“Obviously, it’s been a long road back,” Renteria said. “We don’t want to create a timeline that pushes somebody to do something that they probably shouldn’t do at some point.
“But he looked good. He looked comfortable.”
NOTE: The Cubs signed utility player Emilio Bonifacio to a minor-league deal with an invitation to camp that is expected to lead to a spot on the Opening Day roster. Bonifacio, 29, will earn $2.5 million if he makes the big-league club.